I realize how dramatic that sounds, but bear with me here.
Think about any workplace you’ve ever worked in during the holidays. Employees, even customers, are not nearly as focused on the work-at-hand as they are during non-holiday times. They may be taking sick days or personal days off (shopping and baking take precedence!), they may be leaving work early to see their kids in the Holiday Concert at school. They may be laughing and joking about how someone behaved at the office party the night before, or maybe they are distracted by thoughts of the shopping that isn’t yet done, or the in-laws (who they never really get along with) who are arriving tomorrow.
And that’s the point. There are dozens of time and thought-consuming distractions during holiday times. Then, as the holiday date draws closer, the most senior staff members (if not everyone) begin checking out for days or weeks of vacation time. Important questions go on a shelf until those folks return to work. Less senior staff, or part-timers, are the ones left to make snap decisions when called for, no matter how dire those decisions are. They make them to the best of their ability, but there’s always a question about whether they are making the right decision.
Now let’s apply that to a hospital setting which is really no different from any other workplace when it comes to holidays, and the distractions and the absence of the people with the most experience and capability. Doctors, nurses, assistants, techs – they are all human beings, they all have the same holiday distractions and challenges as the rest of us, yet their decisions and actions can mean life or death, not simply a missed sale or a typo on a business letter.
No one in healthcare intends to make a mistake, ever. But it would be folly not to realize that mistakes are far more apt to happen when distractions exist or the best decision-makers aren’t available. It’s too easy for a nurse to forget to wash his hands because he is in a hurry (short staffed?) It’s too easy to ignore the patient who has pushed the call button because his bladder is about to burst or his pain meds have worn off. It’s too easy to “forget” to get Mrs. Smith up on her feet and walking around post-surgery, which means she may end up staying an extra day, and her insurance may not pay for it. The discharge process may be affected; vital information may not be shared, or parts of the process may be missed…. etc etc. You get the picture.
What does that mean for advocates?
Personally it means that if you or a loved one faces a hospitalization, then (if possible) put it off until January.
For your advocacy practice it means the same; that if you have a client that will require hospitalization for tests or surgery or any other reason, explain to them the potential for problems during the holidays and suggest they postpone until January, if possible.
If it’s not possible to postpone, then make sure they will have someone by their side 24/7. Explain to them the potential problems, and the need to be even more vigilant than usual. Offer them the peace of mind of having you monitor them while they are there, or, if bedside advocacy is not a service you offer, then reach out to another advocate in your area who can help out while your client is hospitalized.
The fact that you’ve raised the issue shows how well you know the system and the potential for errors during this distracting time of the year. The warning you provide, and the follow-up to be sure your client is well taken care of, will be appreciated by your client and his or her loved ones.
Yes – you’ll be their hero. No cape or tights required.
(Learn more about How the Calendar and Time of Day Affect Hospital Medical Mistakes.)
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